A New York pastor is facing a $1,000 fine for holding a drive-in worship service at Central Bible Baptist Church. The Massena Police Department threatened the fine after claiming the drive-in service violated the state’s coronavirus shutdown orders.
Pastor Samson Ryman held a drive-in service on May 3 with 23 worshipers in 18 vehicles. The Massena chief of police warned Ryman that the church could be subject to a $1,000 fine. The department claims the service violates Gov. Cuomo’s executive orders.
The Rutherford Institute, the legal group representing the church, said the police department was misinformed of the governor’s orders.
“You are mistaken in your assertion that church drive-in worship services are prohibited under New York’s current emergency orders… Threats… are grounded in a misunderstanding of the law and a misapplication of the Governor’s Executive Orders.”
Rutherford stated that the orders violate the church’s fundamental right to practice their religion. Even if the order did apply to church gatherings, it would still violate the First Amendment.
In the past, local authorities had warned Ryman not to hold open-air services. However, the government never prohibited him from holding drive-in services.
Immediately after the May 3 drive-in service, Pastor Ryman expressed his excitement on social media. He rejoiced in seeing the faces of his church members for the first time in two months.
“What a gorgeous day the Lord gave us for our first drive-in service! Seeing all our members with smiling faces. Oh, how we’ve missed worship and fellowship with our church family! What a great day! I was glad when they said unto me, ‘Let us go into the house of the Lord.'”
Unfortunately, Ryman’s follow-up post the next week was somber, to say the least. The police’s threats forced Ryman to close the church doors.
“CANCELED due to NY COVID executive orders,” his Facebook post read.
The church explained that it conducted its drive-in service according to social distancing guidelines. Worshipers would pull into the church parking lot and stay in their cars. Then, Pastor Ryman would preach from a porch attached to the church.
Those in their cars would tune into an FM station to hear the sermon. The Pastor and all congregants stayed more than six feet apart during the entire service. In fact, the pastor didn’t even approach the vehicles during the service.
Because of this, the Rutherford Institute instructed the chief of police to withdraw its threat to enforce the executive order restrictions.
“In the hopes of avoiding formal legal action, I would strongly advise you to withdraw your threat to enforce the Executive Orders’ restrictions on gatherings to Central Bible Baptist Church’s drive-in services and allow them to proceed as planned.”